Marv Pyles came to the College of Forestry with one thing on his mind: problem solving. He explains, "I am an engineer. What engineers do is solve problems, and when I heard about this job, my first thought was, 'Wow, this looks like a really interesting field where I can apply my knowledge to new issues.' "
By training, Pyles is a civil engineer, receiving his B.S. and M.S. at Oregon State University, followed by a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a registered Professional Civil Engineer in California and Oregon. Although Pyles planned at first for a career in a consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, a visit with his old major professor, Lee Schroeder at OSU, changed his mind: "Lee said to me, 'You know, they have been trying to hire a geotechnical engineering professor in the College of Forestry for some time, and they have not been successful. I was wondering if you were at all interested.' I said 'Sure!' and one thing led to another, as I eventually found myself up here being interviewed for the position, and receiving a job offer."
From that point on, the focus of Pyles' career has been to try to make the largest impact possible on the field he knows and loves, something he believes can be accomplished more through teaching than any other means. He explains, "I came to OSU because I would be able to work on geotechnical engineering issues, solving problems that just happened to be in the forestry world, and educating young people in what I love anyway. In that respect I have had an opportunity, through the students that I teach, to positively impact management of more acres of forestland than anyone can accomplished on their own." As it turns out, Pyles' work has extended well beyond geotechnical engineering to forest hydrology and logging engineering as well.
His students believe that he has done an excellent job in teaching–the construction engineering management students who take a basic geotechnical engineering from Pyles selected him for the Dennis Marker Professor of the Year Award for 2006, which acknowledges contributions in construction engineering management. Pyles explains that his field is well matched to his interest in education, saying, "When I started here, forestry had a fairly solid funding base, which meant that even if you couldn't get big research grants, as can happen when you spend the majority of your time teaching, you could still do some meaningful research work to complement teaching."
Meaningful work continues to motivate Pyles when it comes to choosing his research projects. One of his current projects includes innovative research that is helping create a better future for Oregon's threatened and endangered wild fish. His work has centered on the area of fish passage and hydrology when building roads and installing culverts.
Although traditional culverts at road stream crossings may effectively carry stream water, they may also block the passage of fish. "In terms of 'fish culverts', it's the hydraulic part that we need to worry about to make sure that fish have a friendly home," Pyles says. "There isn't much problem in getting a culvert to support the weight of the road, but getting water to flow through in a way that benefits fish habitat and passage can be difficult."
Design and construction of stream crossing culverts to provide for free movement of fish throughout their natural range will be costly, he says, but it is still the most effective use of monies intended to restore fish species.
Other areas of research interest include studies of soil shear strength and the effect that roots have on soil strength. "I try to pick projects that are important and will influence people's lives," Pyles says. "What I have worked on for the last twenty-five years, and will continue to work on as opportunities arise, are issues involving the environmental impact of forest operations–specifically, the degree to which management influences landslides and streams and the degree to which we can do things to mitigate that influence."
Problem solving, a commitment to good teaching, finding ways to do things better, and helping to safeguard people and the environment? All part of the job, says Pyles. "I do the things I do in order to serve my profession and the community, because that's what being an engineer is all about. I like to think that I take the university mission of service to heart in applying my skills to serve Oregon, the Northwest, the nation, and the world."
Bio of Marv Pyles written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry